Oct. 21, 2012 – By Molly Snyder
Local filmmaker Ashley Altadonna will host a fundraiser on Friday, Nov. 2 at the Down & Over Pub, 2535 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Through the fundraiser, Altadonna hopes to raise the last $2,500 needed for her gender reassignment surgery.
Footage from the fundraiser will appear in her documentary-in-progress, “Making The Cut.”
The event includes dinner by Ball & Biscuit Catering, live music, storytelling, a karaoke contest and a raffle.
Tickets to the event are $40 and available through Altadonna’s website and at the Tool Shed, 2427 N. Murray Ave.
I recently checked in with Altadonna, a former OnMilwaukee.com intern, and asked her more about her brave and fascinating journey of self discovery.
OnMilwaukee.com: When did you start to question your gender identity?
Ashley Altadonna: I began questioning my gender identity when I was 13 years old. For years, I cross-dressed in secret. At the time I didn’t think of myself as female. I just knew I liked dressing in women’s clothes. I was very ashamed and embarrassed and kept it a secret from everyone until I was 18, when I came out to my girlfriend at the time. Shortly after that, I moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I got into filmmaking. I tried repeatedly to stop dressing during this period, but would always fall back into it.
It wasn’t until I moved to Milwaukee in 2000, at age 21 that I realized I wasn’t satisfied simply dressing as a female. However, I put off dealing with my gender identity for another four years while I went to UWM for film and fronted my now defunct band the New Blind Nationals. Eventually, my longing to be female became too much to ignore. I started seeing a therapist and taking hormones to change my body and appearance. I graduated from UWM and my band broke up in 2004 and I began living full time as Ashley on Aug. 6, 2005.
OnMilwaukee.com: How did you know you needed to do this?
AA: Most people assume if you’re going to transition from one gender to another that surgery must be your end goal. To what extent a trans person transitions is really as diverse as the individuals themselves. Some folks are fine simply dressing. Others may take hormones to alter some of their physical characteristics.
For me personally, it was never really a question. Once I knew I wanted to be female, I knew I wanted to have surgery. I see myself as a woman and for me that means having a vagina. This might seem like the generally accepted view of most people, but people shouldn’t dismiss or deny those who feel differently.
OMC: How will this surgery change your life/identity/state of mind, etc.? What is the most challenging part of transition? How did your family react?
AA: I am very fortunate and thrilled that I get to live my life as a woman! I finally feel like I am my true self. I have a wonderful wife and a group of family and friends that accept and support me. The surgery will just be the icing on top of this. There will definitely be some changes to get used to of course. Aside from the physical differences, I will be able to legally change my gender. That will give me some peace of mind when it comes to instances such as legal documents, identification, employment and more.
The most difficult thing about transitioning for me is not comparing myself to other women. I’ve been lucky in that I am fairly passable as female. Most people who see me don’t realize I’m transgendered. “Passability” is a phrase I’m not fond of. It suggests that transgender people are somehow faking the genders we present, rather than accepting them as our real identities. Our culture puts a great deal of importance on one’s appearance, whether you are male, female or somewhere in-between.
OMC: How has transitioning affected your film career?
AA: Honestly, transitioning was the best thing to happen to my film career. Shortly after going full-time as female, I made a short biographical film called “Whatever Suits You.” The film juxtaposes my transition against shots of a men’s suit being re-fashioned into a dress. The film played at the first Seattle Transgender Film Festival, San Francisco’s Frameline Festival and the British Film Institute’s LGBT Festival.
The next year I made “Playing with Gender” which parodies ‘50s educational films and tells the story of two young people who learn about gender, gender roles and transgender identities all while on a picnic. Both films have screened both nationally and internationally. In 2008, I started my own film and video production company Tall Lady Pictures.
The success of both of those films led me to my current project “Making the Cut.” The film is my first feature, and documents my efforts to raise the funds I need for my gender reassignment surgery while also examining the financial, social and political issues facing transgendered folks. It’s been an incredible experience so far. I’ve met a lot of great people and learned a lot about trans issues, healthcare, fundraising and filmmaking.
Alongside of the final fundraiser, I am also hosting a Kickstarter.com campaign to raise money for “Making the Cut.” Trying to afford a costly surgery that typically isn’t covered by health insurance is daunting enough. Trying to pay for a feature film on top of that is even more overwhelming. There are bunch of great gifts available depending upon the level of donation. The money goes to help purchase sorely needed equipment, travel expenses and production costs. People can check out the page and support the film here.